By Dan Linehan
---- — When Don Wright was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2003, he denied it at first.
Runners often have unusual blood tests, he told himself. But he had cancer, and doctors told him the median survival time was five years.
Wright, 72, said he still likes to say he’s in denial.
“I know that I have myeloma, I just deny that it’ll be the end of me,” he said.
Since his diagnosis, the Lake Elmo, Minn., man has run 74 marathons. His next one will be in Mankato on Sunday.
He’ll be joined by his wife, Ardis, and daughter, Sarah. They accompany him on trips and typically run the half-marathon, as they plan to do in Mankato.
“They’re my support and I’m their support, I guess,” Wright said.
He runs in part to raise awareness for Team Continuum, a nonprofit that helps cancer victims pay for non-medical costs.
A long trek
Wright picked up the running habit from a brother-in-law, and was soon hooked.
“Well, the bottom line is that I love to run,” he said. “I wake up in the morning anxious to get my feet down on the floor and laced into a pair of shoes to go out and run.”
Cancer didn’t change that.
He was diagnosed about two weeks after his first marathon, in Duluth.
At first, he set short-term goals, such as running the Boston Marathon.
Then, not entirely sure he’d make it, he set a big goal. He was taking a steroid treatment with harsh side effects, but he decided to run a marathon in every state.
It was fun touring the upper Midwest, as they did at first. But he didn't fully expect to hit all 50.
“The 50-state goal was a pretty slim chance when we started out,” he said.
A new drug
About five years ago, Wright joined a clinical trial for a drug called Pomalyst.
He takes a pill once a day, and it doesn't have any side effects. It allows him to keep running, and it’s an effective treatment — he doesn't have to choose between his lifestyle and the best drugs.
It doesn't cure his cancer, but it keeps it stable. It’s almost as if he doesn't have cancer at all, Wright said.
Wright eventually hit his 50-state goal, and now he has a new one: 100 marathons. It’s just the nearest round number, but it helps him to set a goal.
He is grateful that he’s been able to come this far.
“Every day is an extra day as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “Every day is a gift.”
If You Go What: The fourth annual Mankato Marathon When: Sunday at 8 a.m. Where: The half- and full marathons begin at Minnesota State University For more information, visit mankatomarathon.com At A Glance As an experienced runner, Wright shared a bit of his experience. On training: Wright runs between three and 20 miles on any given day, about 1,000 miles a year, so he makes sure to enjoy his practice time. He runs in the Lake Elmo Park Reserve, just a few miles from his house. "I especially love the grass trails." On what makes a good marathon: "It helps if I don't have to be looking over my shoulder to see if a car isn't going to run me down," he said. For that reason, trails are nice. Shade helps, too, as do good support stations. "Most marathons pull that off really well," he said.